Luis Suarez Walks Alone

Continuing to diss the loyal fans who supported him through the eight game suspension for being a racist and 10 games for being a carnivore in public, Luis Suarez continues his public campaign for Real Madrid to come in for him. But so far the Spaniards are apparently not willing to match Liverpool’s required fee.

And new boss Carlo Ancelloti may have a different EPL star in mind though as rumor has Los Blancos lining up a record transfer fee for the player who beat Suarez out for Player of the Year, Gareth Bale. How much? Let’s say £85 million, £5 million more than the team paid for Ronaldo.

But even with Bale on board will Ronaldo stay? So far he hasn’t signed a contract extension and so a handful of billionaire-backed clubs are preparing bids with lots of zeros at the end. Man City, PSG, Chelsea all seem interested.

Perhaps most intriguingly there’s Monaco. The team, owned by a Russian rival of Chelsea’s Abramovich, has already spent £120 million or so on three players but adding CR7 would surely be enough to take them from Ligue 2 to Champions League in one season, and not having to play in European competition this season would make him fresher for the World Cup next summer.

If he leaves Madrid, with Higuan also out the door, Bale would need someone more than Karim Benzima to partner with and then Suarez, even at £40-50 million, looks much better.

Hard to see the terrific LFC fans, supportive as we’ve been the past two seasons, getting past the poor-mouthing of Luis Suarez the last few weeks.

LFC Midfield Getting Crowded

The full list, 14 as of this moment:

Raul Meireles
Steven Gerrard
Joe Cole
Milan Jovanovic
Rodriguez Maxi
Dirk Kuyt
Leiva Lucas
Jay Spearing
Christian Poulsen
Jonjo Shelvey
Albert Acquilani
Charlie Adam
Jordan Henderson
Stewart Downing

Jovanovic, Poulsen, Acquilani and Cole are likely to be sold or loaned, Maxi is on the bubble and if I had to guess if any of those five stay Shelvey or Spearing will be loaned. That brings us down to nine or ten.

Which seems like a lot when you consider that when healthy every one except Spearing/Shelvey will expect to start and the Reds play a 4-4-2, not a 0-10-0.

Even if a player or two will always be missing through injury, suspension or the like but discounting that who are the four starters?

Gerrard still has to be the first name.

Lucas I think earned the defensive midfield spot as the team”s most dependable player last season.

Dirk Kuyt is the most important creator of goals the last few years and my favorite Red, starts on the right.

Downing probably offers the best supply from the left. That’s four.

Adams deputizes for Lucas. One intriguing idea floated a week or two back is to play Charlie as a central defender alongside Skrtel; Adams himself said that might be his best position.

Henderson can spell Dirk as he works his way into a starting position, especially if Downing gives consistent width from the left.

Mereilles seems the big loser in the three signings and if a deal can’t be made for Acquilani he might have to go instead.

The transfer window has six weeks left. Let’s see what Kenny, Comolli and John Henry get up to!

LFC after 10 games–a muscleman is needed

We’re 10 games into the Roy Hodgeson era and the calls for his head seem to be subsiding a bit after the Chelsea and West Ham wins. Paul Tomkins suggests that with the NESV takeover three possible scenarios exist:

1. Use the ownership change as a chance to clear house, but only if a serious long term successor is appointed. Someone like Frank Rijkard or Guus Hiddink, not a return of Kenny Dalgleish

2. Fire Roy but only appoint a short-term successor, such as Dalgleish, and wait for the Summer to put in a name boss.

3. Leave Roy with the understanding that he at least either qualifies for Europe or wins the FA Cup. Without a result he leaves.

For me only the first of these is reasonable and the time for a housecleaning’s about over. Any new man would need to have, say, the December run of games in charge to make decent appraisal of the changes needed in the January transfer window.

With the recent good form I don’t see John Henry pulling the trigger. Small chance if that changes at Tottenham and the game or two after.

Given that Hodgson will at least see out the season what can we do?

First, stop the lone striker 4-5-1 or the tré fashionable 4-2-3-1; Fernando Torres is much better with a second striker or even Gerrard just off him. David N’Gog is beginning to show promise but Ryan Babel sadly has had enough time and needs replacing.

If we do bring in a forward I’d prefer to see a player with power rather than speed or slick. Drogba or Bent rather than Berbatov or Anelka, for comparison.

Many of the transfer rumors I’ve read focus on midfielders. Frankly I don’t understand them, especially once Gerrard and Joe Cole return we’ll have decent depth. Don’t forget Babel was originally purchased to play up front and even if we sell him and Jovanetic both the emergence of Jay Spearing and the return of Fabio Aurellio are sufficient.

What we need is the player Andrey Voronin and Craig Bellamy were supposed to be. Physical and able to hold off defenders in ways that make space for Torres, Gerrard, Kuyt and others.

Liverpool FC Sliding

Consider the results under Rafa ‘Can’t Leave Fast Enough’ Benitez, boss from 2004-2005 through 2009-2010.

  • 2004/05: Won the Champions League but finished fifth in the Premier League and needed a rule change in order to defend that trophy
  • 2005/06: Won the FA Cup, third place domestically
  • 2006/07: Lost the Champions League return match to Milan in his third, third place domestically
  • 2007/08: Fourth in the EPL, lost in the quarterfinals in the CL
  • 2008/09: Rose to second domestically and could have won the league but for a couple of games in which late equalizers were surrendered
  • 2009/10: Seventh in the EPL, didn’t get out of the Champions League group stage

Many of my fellow Kopites have criticized the team’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, for the downward velocity but I don’t count myself among them because as far as I’m concerned they gave Benitez plenty of purse. Not at the level of Chelsea, Real Madrid and, most recently, Manchester City bottomless pits but enough; certainly competitive with Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United.

Who did Rafa buy? Sure Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Martin Škrtel and Dirk Kuyt have been value for money but tell me these players were worth their fees:

  • Alberto Aquilani (nearly $30M)
  • Ryan Babel (~$20M)
  • Glenn Johnson (nearly $30M)
  • Robbie Keane (well over $30M)
  • Albert Riera (~$15M)
  • Philipp Degen (free, but took a roster spot and contributed less than his fee!)
  • Andrey Voronin (on a Free, but he flattered to deceive)
  • Jermaine Pennant (~$10M)
  • Luis Garcia (~$10M)
  • Florent Sinama-Pongolle (~$5M, sold on for a small loss)
  • Anthony Le Tallec (~$5M)
  • Fernando Morientes (~$10M)
  • Momo Sissoko (~$9M, though at least we got a decent fee (~$5M profit) from Juventus in turn)
  • Mark Gonzalez (~$3M, not much but wasted a winger spot on the roster)

And why were these players sold?

  • John Arne Riise, who is still doing the business at Roma
  • Peter Crouch, who has never been replaced as a target forward
  • Danny Guthrie/Stephen Warnock: one would have been a good replacement for Riise
  • Yossi Benayoun: if Chelsea were willing to pay so much for him why would we let him go? He even said the only reason he wanted to leave was being fed up with Rafa.

Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano were both very good buys, no doubt, but Xabi was poorly used his last season or two in the squad. Masch, in contrast to Benayoun, left because he is so enamored of the former bossman he couldn’t bear to be apart.

Robbie Keane should have been a great buy. He wanted to come, from what I read he felt his run at Tottenham had reached a natural conclusion, but Rafa could never get him settled and had to sell him back to Spurs for a $5 million loss after half the season.

Glen Johnson might be a controversial inclusion on the bad buy list–he is a solid first choice for the English national team–and in the long run he may turn out well but (a) at the time of his purchase he had a serious knee injury and (b) his fee was almost $30 million!

In other years Johnson’s knee may not have been the negative it was last season but when you add in the games Stephen Gerrard, Mascherano and Torres missed from injury and other causes it was killer. Riera and Aquilani were not adequate substitutes in the least.

Beyond the player transfer dealings I think that Rafa had a tough time setting a consistent formation and one that suited his available talent. He was just too stubborn about it.

Roy Hodgson arrived late and might not be starting well. One win from six, crashed out of the Carling Cup to a fourth tier team, well, I’m not optimistic about getting back to the top four after 38 games. But I’m not ready to call Martin O’Neill just yet.

Bottom line for me is that Rafa Benitez made more bad buys than good and to a large degree lost the dressing room. Hicks and Gillett may indeed need to go, as my Twitter pal NYLiverBull frequently writes but I cannot see the recent years as down to a lack of transfer money.

Joe Cole Joins LFC

This is one signing I like! And very glad to see that the rumor that swirled up when Hodgson was about to jon the club came true. I felt that Cole was poorly used at Chelsea (and for England too), particularly after Mourinho left. With StevieG announcing today he’s staying I’m feeling good about our attack for the coming season.

Joe looks good in the new white kit too

Joe Cole at his 1st training with the Reds
Joe Cole at his 1st training with the Reds

Welcome Roy Hodgson

Liverpool FC today announced that Roy Hodgson has joined the club from Fulham as the new manager and I’m pleased at his selection. He famously rescued the London squad from the brink of relegation and took them to the Europa League finals just weeks ago. Amusingly while our former manager took the Inter Milan job, our new boy is a former Inter Milan manager.

Hodgson’s first job is to settle three of our top stars before they bolt. Rumors abound that Chelsea, Man City, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan are all willing to pay big money for one or more of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Javier Macherano and that Masch at least is interested in going. If the Reds are to get back to the top four this coming season we cannot really afford to lose even one of them. Fabio Aurelio has already been shown the door and though not a great fullback he did add needed depth to the squad, while Chelsea will be taking Yossi Benayoun after the transfer window opens.

Roy is quite a contrast from Rafa, temperamentally and tactically. Though strong in his self-belief I’ve rarely seen or read of Hodgson showing strong negative emotions publicly while Rafa has no problem letting off steam. Working with, let’s face it, a good but less talented squad, Hodgson matched his lineup and match planning to the opponent while Rafa (when players were healthy) adhered to his own rotation system and on the road at least almost always set out a 4-5-1 defense-oriented formation.

Hodgson has also been good at getting value for money in player purchases. His former club will likely turn large profits selling on Brede Hangelund, Mark Schwarzer and Bobby Zamora this summer, to give three recent exemplars.

If our three stars stay and stay healthy, as all missed big chunks of the ’09-10 season, and the net talent inflow exceeds the outflow I think the prospects are bright. Hello Roy, shows us what you can do!

Vuvuzelaistic! World Cup 2010, Group Stage round 1

Getting this out of the way: the refs I’ve seen for the most part have been good, with the exception of Jorge Larionda*, and between the improved filtering and familiarity just pushing it into the background the South African horns are no longer irritating me much. ESPN and their commentators are so far so good with again one notable exception. Alexei Lalas was a great player, a bad club executive and a terrible TV host; ESPN should cut their losses and drop him.

USA-England was a good start for us. If you could toss out the first five minutes of settling in, we’d have won the game 1-0. Too bad FIFA won’t do that. Silver lining: the 3 Lions goal did come from Liverpool’s Stevie G on a nice pass from former Red Emile Heskey. Not sure how Robert Green is preferred to David James, but that’s Fabio Capello for you. Now we need to make Slovenia eat their player’s words and get the win Friday.

Germany romped over the Aussies. Tim Cahill’s red was a massive mistake but I doubt his continued presence would have substantially altered the result. Podolski reversed his club form and was the German’s second best player after captain Phillip Lahm; both players created width that Australia couldn’t handle.

Spain 0-1 Switzerland, upset of the round! I watched this game and though La Furia Roja were too predictable, too repetitive and were almost Arsenal-like in passing over shooting. As one comment I saw said, if Pedro was preferred over Cesc Fabregas as a sub why would Fabregas want to join Barcelona. The goal was on a counter, Casillas couldn’t handle the one on one and Puyol was so far upfield he couldn’t get back into the six yard box to help.

I didn’t see Brazil-North Korea but Zonal Marking has two good recaps. Why Brazil’s breakthrough was always going to come from Maicon especially shows how come the Samba Kings will almost certainly be on the field come July 11.

South Korea were value for money and tomorrow’s early match against Argentina, who were not, should be a cage match. Japan squeezed past Cameron in a mild upset. Netherlands were pretty much always winning anyway but got a helping hand from a Danish own goal; Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt put in their second.

France were a joke on Friday though Uruguay’s romp today against South Africa show I may have underestimated the South American side’s quality. Portugal and Ivory Coast were in on the joke together in a very disappointing match.

The second and third round of games should be more aggressive, if the Uruguay-South Africa affair was predictive.

More games, nummy nummy!

On the ownership of Liverpool FC

A recent SpoFi discussion on Tom Hicks and George Gillette’s quality as owners of the team brought this response from me:

Liverpool finished second in the Premiership last season, despite a horrendous number of draws (if three of them had been wins we’d have won the league), and made the Champions League semi-finals. This season has been less successful but we might still win the Europa League as consolation prize.

Under Hicks and Gillette we’ve bought Fernando Torres. Last Summer, okay we sold Xabi Alonso but with Real Madrid calling there was little chance of him not going. Meanwhile Benitez was given plenty to spend and paid millions of quid for Glen Johnson–good buy but injured much of the term–and Alberto Aquilani, a complete waste of well over $40M. Thankfully Lucas, a youngster Benitez has groomed filled in reasonably well considering its his first season as a regular starter.

Speaking of injuries, other than Dirk Kuyt and Pepe Reina almost all the team’s important players have missed meaningful chunks of the season due to them.

I agree that Hicks and Gillette should probably not have taken on quite so much debt BUT if the economy had not gone so deep in the toilet the last two years I’m pretty sure this would be a non-issue for us, Man U and probably even Portsmouth.

Reds win for a treble!

Going for their second cup championship of the week, the score was Liverpool 5, Alaves 4 as an own goal from the Portuguese’s side goalkeeper late in overtime brought Liverpool the UEFA Cup only three days after winning the English FA championship over Arsenal. The team won the Worthington Cup earlier this spring for the unprecedented treble. In late August, they’ll face either Bayern Munich or Valencia in Monaco for the Super Cup. Finally, after a slow start in the current Premiership season, they look good for third place and an automatic bid to next season’s Champion’s League.